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High Ratings for Talk Radio

Senior Theater-History double major Andrew Harvey stars in “Talk Radio” as part of his Comprehensive Excercise. Directed by Ethan Ramsay ’17, the cast takes to the Weitz rehearsal room this weekend.

“Talk Radio,” written by Eric Bogosian, gives a brief peek into the life of the semi-fictional 80s talk radio personality Barry Champlain, a part burn-out, part sage, All American quick talker.

“We are talking about America tonight,” Champlain announces, and he sure did – all the homophobia, racism, sexism, and indifference forms a churning foam above which Champlain mistakenly believes himself to be.

Perhaps because of increased funding, perhaps because of a longer rehearsal period, or perhaps because of artistic maturation, “Talk Radio” soars far above Harvey’s Experimental Theater Board staging of “Suburbia,” also written by Eric Bogosian, last winter. Harvey brought along many “Suburbia” vets, including Owen Solis ‘17, Erik Sorenson ‘17, and Dana Spencer ‘16, who remembered how to make stage gold out of log cabins of fake cigarettes and handles full of apple juice.

Harvey’s whole cast magnified his stage presence; his rapport with Sorenson, playing Stew the call-screener, pulsed with history and dissatisfaction, while his generational clash with Solis was as wrenching as watching someone punch a mirror. Almost more impressively, the 13 callers, many of whom never stepped on stage, managed to develop a believable and energized back-and-forth with Champlain simply over the phone.

Ramsay employed various stage-crafts to compliment the enlivened cast. Harvey cuts callers off with tactful swoops, all the while supported by the sound equipment equivalent of the big guns, as operated by sound designers Aaron Sala ’16 and Michael Wheatman ’15. Sala and Wheatman, seated, with their equipment, on stage, assumed especially dynamic roles, shooting looks of sympathy and amusement at Sorenson without a lapse in the performance of their main job.

The lights shone proudly, establishing the stage without relying upon strong delineating architectural features. The stage had its own sort of house lights when Champlain’s show cut to a measured micro-break, each of which squeezed the humanity out of the cast with Sorenson’s authoritative count down.

Costumes, while rather day-to-day, fit the chic, transformed rehearsal room. A dichotomy between well-cut suits and well-picked sweats established the tension between loose cannonry and the big bucks. But Champlain reigned above all, dressed in stage black attire reminis- cent of Louis CK, albeit one dangerously clogged on Americana.

“Talk Radio” sourced its stageware from amusingly nearby – the CAMS department apparently did not trust Ramsay enough to not Sharpie their initials on various pieces of borrowed equipment, and Sayles cups littered the sound designers’ desk like a campus activist’s nightmare.

The show runs a constant pace, cutting from life crisis to exotic fetish with moments only to breath. When silence, rendered so valuable, finally comes, the audience’s ears roar and ring like a bell choir encore.

The most bothersome and reparable hole in “Talk Radio”‘s production was the relationship between Harvey and Claire O’Brien ‘17 as Linda MacArthur, Harvey’s assistant and sometimes lover. A dynamic relationship could have formed in their subtle interactions, but it was lost in the wave of masculinity that was “Talk Radio.”

Despite Harvey’s enjoyable romance with Bogosian, Champlain’s unbelievable relationship with MacArthur indicates a deeper issue with Bogosian’s art; namely that, when it rubs against the complexities of race and gender, it brushes off or shies away. “I don’t want to talk about AIDS,” Champlain declares, and we know what that he means it.

Bogosian deserves credit, however, for addressing the relationship between media and humanity in a manner maybe unintentionally relevant today. Champlain’s show – a search for the impulsive, repulsive, and plain weird expressions of humanity given relative anonymity – calls the internet up for a chat worth listening in on.

Running about 90 minutes, “Talk Radio” is thought provoking and easy on the eyes. Despite its faults, the reviewer recommends it for the casual and serious weekend theatergoer. Far from a one-man show, but something akin to a celebration and realization of academic achievement in the arts, “Talk Radio” will be remembered as a star of the season.

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